Twitter has permanently suspended an account that repeatedly shared xenophobic, anti-Muslim, and hyperpartisan disinformation, after U.S. President Donald Trump promoted several of its tweets on Sep. 7, 2020. The company told Snopes the account @AlwaysActions was "violating Twitter's platform manipulation and spam policy" but declined to provide any further details.
According to Factbase, a repository of Trump's social media posts and public pronouncements, the president shared a total of 11 posts by @AlwaysActions on Sept. 7 to his 85 million Twitter followers. They provide a fascinating insight into the information (and disinformation) ecosystem that sometimes comprises the president's Twitter feed.
Race, Policing, and Protests
Most of the posts promoted by the president were racially charged in their content. For example, one of @AlwaysActions' videos carried the description "The Socialist Mainstream Media: White man attacked by an illegal alien and racist reporter." The footage showed a white man bleeding from his head, while being interviewed by a Univision reporter. The reporter asks the man, "Are you a racist?" which causes the injured man and a Black associate to bristle. At one point the white man says: "I'm standing here with a Black man!...If I'm standing with him, how could I be a racist?" The footage does not provide any evidence that the man's injury was caused by an immigrant living in the country illegally.
The video was actually recorded more than 20 years ago at a demonstration in favor of Proposition 187, a California ballot measure that was passed in 1994 and barred immigrants who lived in the U.S. illegally from receiving public benefits or sending their children to public schools, among other measures. (The policy was quickly put on hold by a federal court before being ruled unconstitutional, and it was never fully implemented). The footage was posted to YouTube in 2010 by Jesse Lee Peterson, the Black man shown in the video, who is a controversial commentator and activist associated with the American far right.
Trump also promoted two separate videos given the same caption by @AlwaysActions — "Black man exposes Black Lives Matter." In one clip, a Black man at a public demonstration excoriates the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, emphasizing "Black-on-Black" crime and claiming Black people, especially young Black protesters, were not truly "oppressed."
The footage was recorded in June 2020 in Huntington Beach, California, during a set of sometimes clashing protests over both racial injustice and police brutality, as well as state and local policies requiring the wearing of masks in an effort to combat the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The man in the video is Pastor Muzic Martin, who preaches at a Colton, California, ministry called His Way Spirit Led Assemblies. Alternative footage shows that he had earlier become embroiled in an argument with a BLM activist and said the movement was "like the new KKK."
The second video billed as "Black man exposes Black Lives Matter" was recorded in Washington, D.C., on the day of Trump's inauguration in January 2017. It shows a young Black man arguing with an older white woman, who holds a placard that reads "Lock him up" in reference to the incoming president.
The young man presents purported statistics about "Black-on-Black" violent crime and likens BLM to white supremacist groups, saying "it's the same shit," "they're both hate groups," and labeling BLM a "terrorist organization." The young man in the video is Kevin Martin, who later became a correspondent for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' Infowars and a guest on Sean Hannity's Fox News show.
In July 2019, CNN asked Martin about remarks made by Trump in which he suggested four women of color and Democratic U.S. representatives — Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez of New York — should "go back" and fix the countries they "originally came from." The comments were widely condemned as racist, not least because three of the four women were born in the United States.
Martin told CNN that although he still broadly supported Trump, the president's comments had "hit a lot of us that support him...in the gut," and had put his supporters "in a very precarious situation." He added:
He [Trump] has a far right-wing base, and there's a lot of white nationalists, a lot of racists, a lot of anti-Semites in that base...A lot of us feel like 'Wow, where do we fit in? Are we still welcome in this movement? Are people of color still welcome?' So a lot of us are still reeling from that comment, and I will tell you a lot of my friends that are Black conservatives, a lot of them have jumped off the 'Trump Train.'
Trump again touched on the contentious issues of police brutality and racial injustice, retweeting an @AlwaysActions post that read, "I can no longer stay silent," along with a quotation attributed to basketball legend Michael Jordan. The quotation read: "I have seen up close the dedication of the law enforcement officers who protect me and my family. I have the greatest respect for their sacrifice and service."
Those words came from a real statement issued by Jordan in July 2016, but the meme was misleading because it gave readers the impression that the former Chicago Bulls star and icon of Black popular culture had felt compelled, in an atmosphere of growing tension over a series of police shootings of Black people, to unambiguously and unconditionally take the side of law enforcement officers. In reality, Jordan's statement was much more nuanced.
He wrote, "I have been deeply troubled by the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement" but also that he had been "angered by the cowardly and hateful targeting and killing of police officers." Immediately after articulating his respect for the work of police officers, as included in the meme, Jordan went on to write: "I also recognize that for many people of color their experiences with law enforcement have been different than mine. I have decided to speak out in the hope that we can come together as Americans, and through peaceful dialogue and education, achieve constructive change."
The meme — posted by @AlwaysActions and promoted by the president — stripped away all that nuance, and removed any mention of Jordan's dismay at fatal police shootings of Black people.
Another tweet shared by Trump touched on the ongoing protests against racial injustice and police brutality and the movement to "Defund the Police." It featured a short video clip of Tacoma, Washington, police officer, Sam Lopez mocking activists for purportedly requesting a police presence at a "Defund the Police" protest. Lopez deleted the video from his TikTok profile and was the subject of an internal Tacoma Police Department investigation in July 2020. His TikTok profile was replete with crude attacks against Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
Trump also promoted an @AlwaysActions tweet that contained the caption: "#BlackLives Matter "Peaceful Protest," to which the president replied "A so-called peaceful protest!" The accompanying video showed scenes from what appears to be a riot: Black men throwing stones at a police car and standing in front of police officers in riot gear, with tear gas canisters being thrown back and forth between protesters and a line of police officers.
The use of the phrase "peaceful protest" in the original tweet, and in Trump's, was misleading because it suggested that someone in the video had characterized the activities shown in the footage as "peaceful protest," or that they matched what would generally be regarded as peaceful protest, neither of which was the case. The emerging trend, especially among right-leaning observers and supporters of the president, of using instances of property destruction or violence that take place in response to police brutality as a rhetorical weapon against those who support genuinely peaceful protest, is a good example of the straw man fallacy.
We have so far been unable to find the original source of that footage, but it appears to have been recorded in Charlotte, North Carolina, in September 2016, during protests and riots that followed the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, a Black man. Helicopter camera footage from a night of rioting (shown in the first few seconds of this video) appears to show the same individuals throwing rocks at a police car, and the license plate of the police vehicle shown in the @AlwaysActions video matches a North Carolina-registered 2014 Chevrolet Caprice police car.
The tweet that garnered perhaps the most attention in the aftermath of Twitter's decision to suspend @AlwaysActions was a brief video clip of a Black man telling an unidentified woman why he supports Trump: "Because he is for what's right for America. And I love it. This is my country and I want it back." @AlwaysActions' tweet came with the caption, "This black man wants his country back. This is my country and I want it back." The president retweeted that post by quoting it, adding his own response "Thank you!" It's not clear who the man is, where the video was recorded, or when, though the conversation must have taken place before Dec. 19, 2017, because that's when @AlwaysActions first tweeted it out.
After @AlwaysActions was suspended, the man's race and his support for Trump became the focus of right-leaning observers who suggested that Twitter had banned the account precisely because the president had highlighted a Black man's support for him. The Russian state-owned website Sputnik focused exclusively on this angle, ignoring the 10 other @AlwaysActions tweets promoted by Trump on the same day and publishing an article with the headline "Twitter Takes Down Account After Video of Black Trump Supporter Retweeted by President."
'Platform Manipulation and Spam'
Remarkably, Sputnik's article contained no evidence that the website had asked Twitter why @AlwaysActions was banned. Snopes did. In a statement, a spokesperson for Twitter said, "The account referenced has been permanently suspended for violating Twitter's platform manipulation and spam policy." That policy states that: "You may not use Twitter’s services in a manner intended to artificially amplify or suppress information or engage in behavior that manipulates or disrupts people’s experience on Twitter." It takes into account a wide range of activities, including:
- Commercially motivated spam
- Using multiple accounts and fake accounts
- Using stolen profile photos or bios
- Presenting an intentionally misleading profile location
- Buying or selling an account or handle
- Buying or selling retweets or follows
- Repeatedly posting and then deleting the same content
- Posting tweets in bulk with multiple unsolicited mentions of other accounts
- Posting links to malware
@AlwaysActions could, therefore, have been engaged in any number of those violations. We asked Twitter to stipulate the specific parts of the platform manipulation and spam policy that the account violated, but the company declined to provide any further details. An archived link to @AlwaysActions from August 2019 does provide evidence that the account was repeatedly posting the same content and "mentioning" various targeted accounts, including Trump's, in each tweet:
The account was also a prolific publisher of hyperpartisan and xenophobic disinformation, with a particular focus on anti-Muslim smears. We asked Twitter why it had banned @AlwaysActions on Sep. 7, but not before, and whether the increased exposure given to it by Trump's retweets had brought the account's violations to the attention of the company, or resulted in reports or complaints from other users. A Twitter spokesperson declined to answer those questions.
@AlwaysActions was registered in 2010, and in its first few years, it posted inoffensive and politically neutral "breaking news" updates with a particular focus on the New York area and on Israel-related news. (For a period, the account even listed a New York City phone number in its profile bio. Snopes called the number but did not receive any answer).
In late 2015, the account began to focus more heavily on law enforcement-related matters, posting tributes to fallen officers and offering a greater volume of crime-related news. By the summer and fall of 2016, @AlwaysActions had shifted to posting right-wing content, supportive of then-presidential candidate Trump and critical of his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, as well as anti-immigration and anti-Muslim material. A review of the account's tweets, still visible on a related Facebook page, shows that between 2016 and 2018, @AlwaysActions frequently published and promoted discredited and debunked memes and claims attacking both Hillary and Bill Clinton, as well as the racially divisive material later shared by the president.
For example, in November 2017 @AlwaysActions tweeted out an article with the headline "Illegal Muslim From Iran Arrested for Starting California Wildfires," along with the hashtags "#MuslimBan" and "#MAGA." That article was entirely false, and originated in the website Freedum Junkshun, which is part of a network of sites and social media profiles operated by Christopher Blair, who labels his content as satire, even though it has in the past inspired death threats against its subjects.
Between April and August 2018, @AlwaysActions published the same video clip on six different occasions, each time claiming that it showed "Muslim refugees in France," and was proof of "Why we don't want them in the United States." Those tweets were accompanied by the pro-Trump slogans "KAG [Keep America Great)" and "America First."
However, the footage posted by @AlwaysActions had nothing to do with Muslims, refugees, or Muslim refugees. In fact, it showed French taxi drivers protesting in Paris against the arrival of ride-sharing services including Uber. The graphic below shows the @AlwaysActions' tweet, alongside a screenshot of a Jan. 26, 2016, video posted to Facebook by the UK's Channel 4 News. The images are identical:
The other @AlwaysActions posts promoted by Trump were: A clip from Fox News host Laura Ingraham's 2016 Republican National Convention speech; a video of Jewish people dancing at a wedding while wearing pro-Trump T-shirts; a clip of a police officer in Michigan saving a choking baby; and a video meme with the caption "Share if you will always stand for the national anthem!" that appears to have originally been posted in 2017 by the Facebook page USADailyNews03.